Tuesday, January 10, 2012
By WILLIAM J. KEMBLE
STONE RIDGE — A public comment forum has been set for Jan. 23 for residents to voice concerns over problems in Ulster County stemming from New York City Department of Environmental Protection handling of its reservoir system.
The session is scheduled for 6 p.m. in John Quimby Theater at Ulster County Community College, with city officials and state Department of Environmental Conservation representatives expected to attend.
“This is an opportunity for the citizens of Ulster County to have their voices heard,” County Executive Michael Hein said.
“The people ... deserve an opportunity to have their voice heard not only by the DEP but also senior staff at the DEC,” he said. “There isn’t one specific issue that is the issue at hand. There is a long list of issues and it really comes down to the fundamental relationship between New York City DEP and the people of Ulster County.”
Hein said the primary concerns are property damage in Wawarsing from leaks in the Delaware Aqueduct, assessment challenges that create expensive budget problems for local municipalities, pollution from the highly turbid water released from the Ashokan Reservoir, and flood control for properties along the lower Esopus Creek.
Hein last week sent a letter asking New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to visit areas of Ulster County that have been damaged by handling of the reservoir system. On Monday he said that city officials underestimate the amount of concern upstate residents have over the water system.
“The people of Ulster County fully appreciate the importance of providing water to 9 million people,” Hein said. “They also have a right to be treated with respect.”
City Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Farrell Sklerov in an email declined to comment on whether there were concerns over sending a representative given the tone of Hein’s letter and request for the state to enforce state Clean Water Act regulations.
“We had agreed to attend this public meeting when we were originally asked on December 1st,” he said.
However, city officials have previously noted that a program has been proposed to buy Wawarsing properties and that turbidity in the lower Esopus Creek is a consequence of state orders to stop using chemical alum treatment when water is sent further south in the system.
The meeting comes about a year after private meetings began with city officials and the Ashokan Release Working Group, consisting of representatives from watchdog groups and municipal officials. Hein said residents who have been excluded from those meetings have been unhappy with the slow progress of those sessions and a state decision to allow continued city dumping of 600 million gallons of turbid water into the 32-mile long lower Esopus Creek that flows into the Hudson River.
“We have had an overwhelming number of individuals, citizens of Ulster County, express their frustration of being unable to speak directly to high DEP and DEC officials regarding their concerns,” Hein said.